Chapter One: 

Detective Holmes had solved many cases and now she had been brought in to a call center to solve one of the most challenging cases she had ever had. “Empathy” was missing and no one knew why or where Empathy had gone!!

This may not be a best selling mystery book opening, but there is often a mystery surrounding why some agents can summon up empathy without requiring coaching on the skill, while others have no idea what to say or when to say it. Some even admit to hating the empathy phrases they’ve been taught.

If we have agents with empathy skill issues, we need to put on our detective hats and find out the reasons behind their lack of empathy instead of just blindly handing out forms with phrases for them to use.

Some agents seem clueless about which situations require empathy. Then there is the empathy “reading” phenomena, in which an agent says the words you’ve given them, but doesn’t have a sincere tone to go along with those words. Our customers can hear that lack of sincerity a mile away and so can you when you monitor these calls or read their emails.

So, why do some agents miss opportunities to be empathetic? Below are some of the comments I’ve heard when I asked agents for skill issue reasons.

“What is preventing you from giving empathy to customers? Why do you think you miss empathy opportunities?”

1. “I think I sound stupid saying these phrases.”

Explore with the agent why they feel that way.

Are they uncomfortable giving empathy in general or just at work? Some people can show concern in person but are uncomfortable saying the words over the phone and fear sounding strange or unnatural.

Are they unsure how to use their tone of voice to match their words? Record them practicing the phrases with you in role-play. Empathy doesn’t require a big overblown emotional response, which may be what this agent fears. Sounding sincere is far more important than over eager fake empathy.

2. “I don’t know why empathy is needed when the customer just wants the problem fixed.”

Tell them that they are right about the importance of taking care of the customers needs. Ask the agent if they are getting negatives or pushback from customers when they do try to be empathetic.

Role-play to observe what happens during the start of the call. Do they ask, “How may I help you?” listen for a few key words and then immediately start pulling up system information silently?

I’ve observed that agents who are technical and procedural focused will go into the “search for customer information” mode and not engage or empathize. They are so focused on the solution that they miss the connection opportunities.

3. “How am I supposed to show that I care when the customer won’t stop yelling at me?”

No one really wants to listen to a customer rant and rave at us, but it’s a part of our job as much as the problem solving we do. It’s understandable why some agents feel the need to be defensive at times. We need to help them see that no one wins if they act on this need or just do nothing.

Ask the agent what they feel is the best way to regain control when dealing with an angry caller and when to start giving empathy. Coaching with them on these skills will help them understand that regaining control when appropriate and then empathizing sincerely leads to a calmer customer situation. With better communication the customer will see us as being in sync with them resulting in improved problem resolution and customer satisfaction.

4. “I panic and then get confused what to say even when the empathy phrase list is right in front of me.”

If you have an agent who is still relying on a piece of paper to provide empathy, both you and the agent have a problem. The agent in this situation either doesn’t understand or doesn’t believe in giving empathy. Your coaching on empathy hasn’t been successful. This is another opportunity to ask good what and why questions and listen to them.

If they see empathy as a “requirement” that management has given them instead of a natural human response to someone who wants reassurance and assistance, they will continue to fail with their empathy attempts. We need to work with them to help them feel comfortable and approach using their own style.

5. “I hate it when people say ‘I understand how you feel…’ because they don’t really understand what I’m feeling. Why should I say that to my customer?”

Using a repetitive phrase all day like “I understand how you feel…” will make any agent sound robotic and drive them crazy. Our coaching must help them develop natural phrases that are customized for the customer situation instead of a “one empathy phrase fits all” approach.

For example when the customer says, “I’m so frustrated trying to enter this information on your website”, it’s far better to say something like, “Mr. X, I’m sorry that is happening. I’d be frustrated too. I’m happy to help you…”

…Start investigating the reasons that some of your agents may be struggling with empathy and other service or technical skills. Observe, ask and listen for clues like any great detective would. Once you understand their reasons for skill issues, you’ll find that your coaching efforts will bring better and lasting results.